Let’s Denounce Muslim-Bashing

Commentary, Civil Liberties, Brian Giesbrecht

Parliament made a serious error when it denounced “Islamophobia” earlier this year. It should have denounced anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Semitism, and a few other forms of hatred.  Instead, the government made it impossible for anyone–including Muslims–to have a healthy and much-needed discussion about the many interpretations of Islam that are, in fact, dangerous. This needs a re-think.

First, I strongly believe that all people should be able to worship, or not, as they choose, and they must have their right to do so respected by others. I also believe that people should have the right to join, or leave, any religion, without fear of reprisal. And I believe that we all have the right to freely criticize other systems of belief, religious or secular, with the corresponding obligation that we must tolerate criticism of our own beliefs. Acceptable criticism can be harsh, even extending to the publication of disrespectful cartoons.

I do not believe that extremely intolerant ideas like Holy War, apostasy, or blasphemy have a place in Canadian society. Finally, I believe that women must have the same rights as men. In short, I believe in tolerance. But, I fear belief systems, religious or secular, that are intolerant.

The reason I fear Islam, as it is presently being interpreted in too much of the Islamic world is because it is intolerant.

I point to Muslim countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran that base their oppressive systems on Shariah law–a literal interpretation of the Qur’an. Citizens of those countries do not have the right to exercise many of the rights that we in Canada believe to be fundamental. A person who renounces Islam is guilty of “apostasy” and liable to the death penalty.  A person who “blasphemes” faces the same fate. Women do not have the same rights as men. This is all done in the name of Islam.

The operating philosophies of al Qaida, and ISIS are more radical versions of this fundamentalism. There are Muslims in Canada who want Shariah law to apply here as well.

Intolerance of this kind is by no means unique to the Islamic world.  In fact, something very similar to Shariah law applied for thousands of years in the Judaeo-Christian world. A person reading the Book of Leviticus in the Bible will be struck by the eerie resemblance of some passages to today’s proclamations from ISIS. Apostates and heretics were put to death in that Old Testament world. And the concept of Jihad, or Holy War, was also very much a part of that world. The chilling exhortations of the fierce prophets of old to annihilate every sinful man, woman, and child, in the name of God, or the battle cries of the blood-thirsty Popes of the Middle Ages calling on the faithful to go to the Holy Land and slaughter infidels (Muslims) because God commanded them to, make these ancient warmongers brothers-in-arms to the worst of the ISIS brutes today. So, the Jewish and Christian worlds lived for a very long time with absolute intolerance.

But, here’s the thing: the Jewish and Christian philosophies evolved. They changed. Their holy books didn’t change–those books still contain all the vicious and bloody parts that inspired the old violence, hatred, and intolerance. But, after countless religious wars, heretic burnings, and other atrocities, these religions reinterpreted their holy books in such a way as to first allow–and then, insist on tolerance.

Today, only the lunatic fringe of the Christian and Jewish worlds still believes in primitive concepts like Holy War, apostasy, or blasphemy laws. But, such is not the case in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or with those who accept this intolerance.

Hatred of Muslims must be loudly condemned, just as anti-Semitism or other extreme forms of intolerance must be denounced. Respect for the freedom of others to hold any belief is essential to our way of life in Canada. Muslims, like everyone else, must be free to worship in peace. But, just as I can be critical of Israel’s settlement policies, or the Pope’s sexist proclamations, I insist on my right to criticize Islamic intolerance.

Out-dated and violent interpretations of Islam must be the subject to healthy debate by everyone–but particularly by Muslims.

Parliament must rescind this gag order.